Taste a Healthy Adventure

Want to reduce your salt intake? Curious about why you should? Dietitian Megan Pentz-Kluyts looks at the simple – and tasty – ways to do it.
Our bias towards taste already exists at birth. Almost everyone is born liking ‘sweet’ and disliking ‘bitter’ tastes. Unlike our ability to detect a salty taste, which takes time to mature. But once infants show a response to saltiness, they like it.
More than half of the salt we eat is the salt added by manufacturers during the processing of foods. The other half comes from salt we add during cooking and at the table.

WHY SALT?

The sodium in salt, together with potassium, is necessary to maintain a good water balance in our bodies.

SALTED TO TASTE

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa comment that it can be very easy to eat too much salt when eating normal everyday foods. Many South Africans eat too much salt and often eat twice the amount of salt that we should. South Africa has one of the highest rates of high blood pressure worldwide, and a high salt intake is an established risk factor for increased blood pressure.

Dr JP Smedema, a local interventional cardiologist at Netcare Blaauwberg hospital, and an avid sportsman, explains further “The often unwitting and substantive intake of sodium salts – tucked away in much of what we consume off the shelves increases our blood pressure, and the risks of stroke and heart disease. Simply reading food labels and limiting our sodium intake pays off!”

A general reduction in sodium intake could be better achieved by reducing the sodium content of manufactured food products than by dietary advice alone. So in 2013, the Minister of Health signed legislation to make sodium reduction in the food industry mandatory, to help achieve the government’s target of reducing salt intake to less than 5g a day. This makes South Africa the first country in the world to legislate salt levels to help reduce the amount of salt that the public takes in from processed foods.

RETRAINING OUR TASTE BUDS?

Here’s the good news – research shows age is no obstacle for palate retraining. Even older people can learn to like new foods and tastes. You can train your taste buds to prefer different flavours, including those you didn’t like as a younger person, with five to 10 repeated exposures. Plus, with age comes more information and education.

We can encourage our bodies to prefer natural food tastes, with more nutrients, by shifting our diet to whole, but still delicious foods. We can use repeated exposure to these foods as well as
motivators like good health and a varied diet to retrain our buds and, ultimately, our eating habits.

Slowly does it. A sixteen-week study showed no overall difference in liking for low-sodium tomato juice at the final taste test, but gradual salt reduction was found to be more acceptable than the abrupt salt reduction.

SWAP YOUR SEASONING

Seasoning your food generously with herbs and spices is a great way to make your meals tastier and is more economical than sauces and dressings. And if that is not enough, new research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition last year found it may have benefits for your heart’s health, as well. After just four weeks, researchers found that seasoning foods with about 1.3 teaspoons of herbs and spices a day was linked with lower blood pressure. These seasonings included a blend of 24 different herbs and spices, ranging from basil and thyme to cinnamon and turmeric, designed to simulate the way people use different herbs and spices throughout their day while cooking.

Blaauwberg dietitians suggest adding citrus fruits, such as lemons and limes, and even vinegars when cooking. Acids act a little like salt in that they help bring out the natural brightness of foods and work to meld flavours together. Try making a quick salad dressing with lemon juice and zest or red wine vinegar with a smidge of oil – or toss veggies and grains with citrus or vinegar to brighten them up.

Our Contributor

Megan Pentz-Kluyts is a dietitian at Blaauwberg Dietitians based at Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital and part of the Blaauwberg Cardiovascular Lifestyle Program – a multidisciplinary team which includes dietitians, biokineticists, physiotherapists, cardiologists and vascular and cardiac surgeons.

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